A federal court hearing for a Texas border narcotics detective accused of stealing cartel drugs offered greater insight into the operation that led to his arrest, and hinted that others may have been aware of his actions.
This week Noel Peña went before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos for a detention hearing, at which the judge heard testimony from his common-law wife and various agents, before deciding to hold him without bond.
As Breitbart Texas previously reported, agents with Homeland Security Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Peña, a Rio Grande City Police officer assigned to a narcotics task force, earlier this month. His arrest resulted from a sting operation in which an undercover DEA agent asked Peña and another man, Hector Salinas, to help him steal 10 kilos of cocaine from a Mexican cartel. Two kilos of drugs would be deliberately left behind for discovery by the police, but Peña was supposed to provide the undercover agent with police records falsely indicating that 10 kilos of drugs had been seized.
Last week, Ramos began the detention hearing to determine if Peña would be released on bond pending trial. The hearing was continued this week, as Judge Ramos wanted to trace the origin of more than $17,000 in cash that agents found in Peña’s home.
During the hearing, Ramos’ common law wife Nancy Villarreal took the stand and claimed she provided this money to Pena. She claimed it was part of an insurance policy taken out on her late mother, and said she gave it to Pena in mid-2014.
Her testimony was brought into question by prosecutors, who claimed that the $17,000 was found tucked into an envelope inside a white bag, which also contained about $2,500 used during the undercover operation to pay Peña for his services.
Prosecutors further attested they found about $1,300 used in a previous operation inside Peña’s room.
During the hearing, one DEA agent took the stand and described a recorded phone conversation between Peña and Villarreal where he spoke of finding cash inside a cereal box during an enforcement operation.
The agents claimed that they have a recording of Villarreal telling Peña to “bring the money home,” an instruction he refused. She then told him to split the cash with another agent.
Defense attorney Eddie Ramirez told Ramos that the recording was a joke between Peña and his wife, taken out of context by investigators. The attorney also stated that Villarreal provided documents to prove that the $17,000 came from an insurance policy. However, Judge Ramos did not appear moved by this argument.